It’s been almost 40 years since one of the most improbable endings in American Legion World Series history.
And those who were a part of Edina, Minn.’s 1983 American Legion World Series championship game victory over Boyertown, Pa., will never forget it.
Truth be told, some consider Edina’s 5-4 victory the most dramatic ending of any ALWS in history.
It certainly had a “you have to see it to believe it” ending as what appeared to be a certain second straight Boyertown ALWS victory turned into an extraordinary comeback rally by Edina.
It was the final game of a rare two-year cross-country American Legion Baseball rivalry as Edina and Boyertown met once in the 1982 ALWS and twice in 1983.
In 1982, Boyertown defeated Edina 4-1 in the second round of its title run in which it went 4-1 overall while Edina finished fifth with a 1-2 record.
In 1983, Edina won 4-0 over Boyertown in the opening round before both teams met in a “winner take all” finale on the last day of the five-day, double-elimination event.
Boyertown led 4-0 after seven innings before Edina scored three times in the eighth inning, twice in the ninth, then left Boyertown’s potential tying run stranded on third as it finished off the 5-4 victory.
Ten years ago, newspapers from Minnesota and Pennsylvania wrote 30-year remembrance stories to capture the memories of those involved in the contest.
Predictably, the tenor of the stories was that of celebration for Edina and disappointment for Boyertown.
“It was magical, it was mystical, and, to this day, it seems as if the details belong in a storybook,” was how Minnesota’s hometownsource.com wrote about the title game.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s The Mercury wrote it this way: “On a late summer night 30 years ago, the Boyertown Bears seemingly had a date with destiny ... then all hell broke loose, and everything suddenly unraveled in one of the most bizarre finishes the ALWS has ever seen.”
What happened was this:
Down to its final two outs and trailing 4-3, Edina scored twice on an infield hit, a fielder’s choice that was very nearly a game-ending double play, a pop-up that brought in the tying run when two Boyertown fielders collided and a two-out RBI single by Pat Donohue that gave Edina a 5-4 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth.
In that final half-inning, Boyertown put runners on first and third base with one out before a fly ball to right field wasn’t deep enough to advance the runner from third base. Edina ace Robert Wassenaar then recorded his 12th strikeout of the game to complete a seven-hitter for the victory.
Boyertown manager Dick Ludy in 2013 recalled that he and his team thought the pop up would be the game’s final out.
“Everyone on our team, when that ball was in the air, thought we were national champions,” he told The Mercury.
Instead, Edina would manage to complete its amazing comeback.
“It was crazy ... shocking, really,” Donohue told hometownsource.com.
So exhilarating was the win that after the final out was recorded, American Legion George W. Rulon Player of the Year Mike Halloran fired a baseball 400 feet and over the left field fence and into the Red River behind the stadium in Fargo.
The title was the first for a Minnesota American Legion team since 1943 with Halloran later an Eden Prairie assistant coach in 2011 for the fifth, and so far, last title won by a team from that state.
Wassenaar, who finished with a 13-0 record in the summer of 1983, would go on to win an NCAA title at Stanford before a seven-year professional career. Halloran played at the University of Minnesota before one season in the minor leagues. And Donohue would play baseball at Northwestern University.
Perhaps just getting out of the 1983 Minnesota state tournament should’ve been an indicator of Edina’s resolve.
In that tournament, Edina lost to host New Ulm before beating New Ulm twice on the final day by 2-1 and 1-0 scores.
“Winning the Legion World Series was the biggest highlight of our baseball careers,” Halloran told hometownsoure.com. “But winning the state title in New Ulm was a close second. Wassenaar pitched 12 innings that day. Brian Martinson pitched the last two innings of the second game. When you allow one run in 14 innings, you’re going to be hard to beat.”
Boyertown would remain one of the top programs in the country as it would make five more ALWS appearances, including winning its second title in 1987 and finishing third in 2004.
“That’s baseball for you,” said Dick Ludy, who had a 630-112 American Legion Baseball head coaching record from 1971 to 1985. “I think about that (game) more than any other win. It’s the one that got away.”